It is common for victims of narcissistic abuse to see the warning signs of forthcoming abuse in the early stages of their narcissistic relationship, but ignore them. This isn’t necessarily their fault, narcissists have different manipulative techniques they use to minimize the severity of their abuse in the eyes of others, but it is important for those in this situation to know what happens if they fall in love with a narcissist so that they’re aware of what’s in store for them.

When you fall in love with a narcissist, you will be manipulated into neglecting your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs. Eventually you’ll become dependent on the narcissist to construct your sense of self and feel incapable of conceptualizing your own version of reality accurately without their guidance.

It is important to grasp a comprehensive understanding of the role that “love” has in narcissistic abuse. If you don’t, you could find yourself trapped within a narcissistic relationship for your entire life. This article is going to teach you what happens when you fall in love with a narcissist, starting you off with a short video down below about whether or not you can truly love someone that they’re trauma bonded to.

A Short Video About Love In a Narcissistic Relationship

When You Fall In Love With a Narcissist You’ll Begin to Question Your Perception of Reality

The first thing that you’re going to lose when you fall in love with a narcissist is your ability to conceptualize your own version of reality accurately. There are a lot of different forms of manipulation that one could blame for this but none more powerful than the deceptive pattern of mirroring, future faking, abuse, and intermittent reinforcement. 

Mirroring 

In a narcissistic relationship, mirroring is when a narcissist will dedicate their time to absorbing as much information as they can about the victim’s identity so they can create a falsified identity that is designed to fill a void in the victim’s life. In romantic narcissistic relationships, this “void” often has a strong correlation with the victim’s perception of the ideal love.

What mirroring is about is the narcissist transforming themselves into exactly who the victim needs them to be. If the victim needs a fun, spontaneous, intense, love bombing relationship, the narcissist will use mirroring to become that. If the victim needs a secure relationship with someone who is more dominant, the narcissist will use mirroring to become that. 

This list can go on and on and you can learn a lot more about it in our article How Do Narcissists Use Mirroring but what mirroring does is it manipulates the victim into believing that the narcissist is someone who they can grow, achieve their goals, and live a happier and healthier life with. It is the first stage in this manipulative pattern and lays the groundwork for the next stage, future faking. 

Future Faking

A future fake in a narcissistic relationship is when a narcissist makes a false promise for the future to get what they want in the present. It is a very manipulative technique that is all about the narcissist getting what they want exactly when they want it and it can manifest in both a verbal and nonverbal form. 

If a narcissist sensed that they were losing power and control over their victim in the beginning stages of the relationship and decided to tell the victim that they wanted to settle down and have kids with the victim because they knew that it was what the victim wanted, that is a verbal future fake. The narcissist made a false promise for the future to remain in power and control in the present. 

A nonverbal future fake is a little more complex than that. In the beginning stages of a narcissistic relationship when the narcissist uses mirroring to become exactly who the victim needs them to be, that is technically nonverbal future faking. 

By presenting themselves as someone who the victim can grow, be healthier, and happier with, they are manipulating them into envisioning a future that is never going to happen. When done correctly, future faking turns the victim’s belief that the narcissist is someone who is really good for their life into a reality. 

A victim of narcissistic abuse falling in love with the narcissist.

Abuse

Once the narcissist senses that they’ve got the victim hooked on the belief that they are really good for their life, they will drop the act and begin their abusive pursuit of validation, admiration, reassurance, power, and control. 

In our articles What Comes After the Love Bombing Phase With a Narcissist and What Is the Devaluation Phase we’ve written about all of the different abusive behaviors one can expect to experience during this phase but what makes it so dangerous is something called cognitive dissonance. 

Cognitive dissonance is a theory that suggests when we experience an inconsistency among belief, behavior, and information, it causes a tremendous amount of psychological tension. To ease this tension we will change one or more of the elements that are causing the inconsistency to make everything consistent. 

In narcissistic relationships, cognitive dissonance manifests in the form of the justification, rationalization, and normalization of abuse. The reason that it happens is because in the mirroring and future faking phases, the narcissist is giving the victim the information and showing them the behavior that they need to have and see to develop a belief that the narcissist is genuine and someone they can be happy and healthy with. 

When the narcissist sees that they’ve got the victim hooked and begins the devaluation phase, they change the information they give and the behavior they show, leaving the victim with only the belief that the narcissist is someone who is meant to be in their life. 

This gives the victim two options. They can hold onto the belief that the narcissist is someone who is meant to be in their life or they can let go of the belief by acknowledging that the narcissist is nothing more than a manipulative abuser. 

Unfortunately, narcissists want to stay in power and control of the victim for the narcissistic supply that they give. So they use many different manipulative techniques to keep the victim justifying, rationalizing, and normalizing the abuse. One of the most powerful ones that they use is the next phase in this manipulative pattern and it is called intermittent reinforcement. 

Intermittent Reinforcement

Intermittent reinforcement is the delivery of a reward at irregular intervals. This is a very powerful form of manipulation narcissists use to keep their victim trapped within the abuse cycle. The reason that it works so well is because narcissistic relationships are so emotionally starved after going through the mirroring, future faking, and devaluation phases that the “reward” a narcissist will give their victim is simply empathy and compassion. 

When the narcissist sees that their victim is intentionally or unintentionally checking out of the relationship, they will strategically use empathy and compassion to keep them hooked on the belief that the narcissist is someone that they can live a happier and healthier life with. 

A victim of narcissistic abuse being manipulated by intermittent reinforcement

When a narcissist uses this manipulative technique, the “reward” actually triggers the reward center in the victim’s brain and floods their body with dopamine. When humans abuse drugs like opiates, alcohol, nicotine, amphetamines, and cocaine, their bodies get flooded with dopamine as well. 

We’ve written a great article about this in Why Do Trauma Bonds Feel Like an Addiction but what ends up happening is the victim remains emotionally invested in the relationship because the “reward” that they get becomes their only known source of happiness. In fact, the victim will neglect their own thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs when chasing the “reward”. 

Intermittent reinforcement causes the victim to develop an intense craving for the “reward”, they lose sight of themselves chasing the “reward”, and despite all of the damage that the relationship is causing them, they will remain in it just to feel the feeling that they get when the narcissist gives them the “reward”. This is where falling in love with a narcissist begins to destroy the victim’s sense of self. 

How Does This Manipulative Pattern Cause Victims to Question Their Own Perception of Reality?

Even though the victim’s body gets flooded with dopamine when they receive the “reward” of intermittent reinforcement and it makes them feel really good, they are still being subjected to months, years, even decades of manipulation, invalidation, devaluation, and humiliation. 

This is going cause the victim to question themselves and their ability to conceptualize their own version of reality because they are unable to leave. They are going to gaslight themselves into believing that if they were being abused, they would simply leave. Over time they aren’t going to know what to do or think without the guidance of the narcissist because of the intensity of the manipulation and abuse they are experiencing. 

When You Fall In Love With a Narcissist You Become Dependent On Them to Construct a Sense of Self

When a narcissist is able to manipulate their victim into developing an addiction for the “rewards” that they give them, they gain power and control over their thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs. This is so dangerous because what ends up happening is the victim basically lives vicariously through the narcissist. 

If the narcissist is happy, the victim will be happy too. If the narcissist thinks that the victim is worthless, the victim will think they are worthless too. If the narcissist thinks that the victim is cheating, the victim will be manipulated into thinking that they are cheating too. This gives a narcissist a lot of power and control and they love it because it allows them to turn their victim into repositories for their negative emotions. 

Generally speaking, a narcissist wants their romantic partner to give them narcissistic supply and be a repository for their suppressed negative emotions. You can learn more about this in our article What Do Narcissists Want In a Relationship but we’re going to direct your focus at the need for a repository for their negative emotions in this article. 

Long story short, it is believed that narcissism originates from an upbringing with unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent primary caregivers who never mirrored their thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs. This means that the child never got the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they needed to develop a realistic sense of self and have a healthy cognitive development.  

There is so much important information about this upbringing that you should read in our article How Are Narcissists Made but one of the emotional inadequacies that the child developed because of their unhealthy cognitive development is an inability to regulate their own emotions through healthy forms of emotional regulation. 

This is a huge problem because they have so many negative emotions about themselves because the neglect of their primary caregivers caused them to develop a belief that they are inadequate, weak, unloveable, and worthless. 

To protect their emotional stability, they construct a sense of self out of the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they get from their external environment to suppress all of their negative emotions deep within themselves. 

For example, a child of neglectful primary caregivers who constructs their sense of self out of the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they get for being a really good soccer player to suppress all of their negative emotions. 

A narcissist receiving praise for being a good soccer player

This inadequate approach to constructing a sense of self and emotional regulation does nothing but make their false sense of self extremely weak and vulnerable. So vulnerable that it can be destroyed by any form of authenticity, like someone criticizing them.

When this happens, it triggers all of their suppressed negative emotions that they are too emotionally inadequate and immature to manage on their own. This compromises their emotional stability and they resort to projection to regain power and control. 

Projection is a defense mechanism where we take aspects of our own identity that we find unacceptable and place them onto others. A simple example of this would be a man who is insecure about his sexuality so he constantly makes homophobic jokes to his friends. 

But when it comes to a narcissist  regaining control over their emotional stability and negative emotions, they try to project their emotional instability onto their victims through invalidation, devaluation, humiliation, and degradation. By making their victim feel as badly as they do, they are able to figuratively point their finger at their victim and tell themselves, “They are the insecure, weak, inadequate, unloveable, and unstable one, not me!”

This is one of the biggest reasons that narcissists get into relationships because it allows them to turn their victim into an emotional repository for all of their negative emotions. This is really dangerous for the victim because the manipulative pattern of abuse that the narcissist put them through to make them fall in love has left them dependent on the narcissist to construct their sense of self. 

What the narcissist will do is they will construct the victim’s sense of self out of all of their own negative emotions. This means that the victim becomes the narcissist’s negative emotions. 

This makes escaping, healing, and rebuilding from narcissistic abuse extremely difficult because over time they will believe that they are all the negative things that the narcissist is projecting onto them. Falling in love with a narcissist and becoming dependent on them to construct a sense of self is extremely dangerous.


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References

Rohmann, Elke, et al. “Grandiose and vulnerable narcissism: Self-construal, attachment, and love in romantic relationships.” European Psychologist 17.4 (2012): 279.

Kealy, David, and John S. Ogrodniczuk. “Pathological narcissism and the obstruction of love.” Advances in Psychodynamic Psychiatry (2018): 163.